President Jimmy Carter’s observation about President Barack Obama’s foes is just as dead-on as the president’s was about Sgt. James Crowley. It shows very much an example of that divided, dissociative mentality that might mark Obama’s office. He must love, navigate, and live amid these two peoples – friends and others – whom would rarely invite one of the other over for Sunday dinner. The president is carrying the banners of (1) a deeply divided, color preoccupied citizenry while, (2) doing the job of representing, without real or perceived bias, that united duo; it’s a devil of a calling.
The first U.S. president of African descent finds that extraordinary pressures come from thoroughly competing, conflicting, and maybe confounding priorities.
He faces extraordinary contradictions…
(1) a U.S. that wants President Barack Obama to lead them past “race” and toward a real and realized Camelot, that parents and grand parents dreamt about two generations ago,
(2) who can lift and revive a hacking, coughing, and hobbled U.S. economy,
(3) while ignoring the divisive contexts and questions from North Americans’ near obsession with color,
(4) and still being the standard bearer, for middle-class people of color, for ambition, achievement, and shedding what they and even the extreme conservatives would call “excuses.”
This is utterly complex and can easily confuse someone, even if they’re already “in-the-know” or in one of the communities that cares about this. This is an utterly Du Boisian dilemma; for readers who either don’t know who have a vague understanding of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois‘ prophesy about the “color line.”
Managing expectations, from two disparate groups, one half of whom are easily manipulated in an era where too many people sit before reality TV and the like, and the other half who routinely eat as a family and read books as a habit. This collection of mandates is too much for any one, even extraordinary and inordinately talented, leader to have to carry.
Having to be the United States’ savior in a great recession is too mean of a task when one must also be a conduit and the penultimate symbol of “race” no longer mattering. The latter especially when so very few North Americans seem to truly want to shed their bias against and prejudices toward any “others.”
Joe Wilson’s outburst and the way that it lifted the conservative, but very poorly informed protests, set a morose new low for public and political decorum. President Carter’s right-on observation of the timid fear, ignorance and prejudices which lay behind that showed the sand-in-your-underwear crisis of national unity that we have.
In The Root, Sophia Nelson reflects on this wisely in Jimmy Carter and the uppity negro: “My point is this: President Carter is speaking a truth that few Americans are willing to hear. He grew up at the height of Jim Crow in the Deep South—the man knows racism when he sees it. Most white Americans simply cannot face the ugly past of “race in America” and how much it is still with us today.”
Jeff Zeleny’s and Jim Rutenberg’s perspective in The New York Times, described how liberals and conservatives are responding to this climate and how much of it is “real.” “Even as several leading Congressional Democrats distanced themselves from Mr. Carter’s comments, some liberals pointed Wednesday to what they describe as an increasing number of racially tinged attacks.”
In this piece, fmr. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell reminded readers to step into many pairs of shoes before jumping to a conclusion that shouts, “color!”
Somehow the president must choose or guesstimate a comfortable space that satisfies North Americans who want him to be as Black as he can be and as they want him to be (two very different and percarious stepping stones), be as American as he can be (i.e. ignoring or deftly moving past the near color obsession); acknowledging that as a Kenyan-American, he isn’t “simply” an African-American, but someone of Kenya and Ireland, and probably at least a few further cultures. Acknowledge and cheer about his being mixed, not mono-ethnic.
Ultimately the president must respond to this cascading series of rhetoric in a way that leaves people feeling as calm and secure as possible about his work and how it serves them. It is too bad that he can’t or won’t respond to Rep. Wilson or at least President Carter (agreeing) with the same candor that he with Sgt. Crowley this summer. It is not that he is lying or misleading in response (although Joe Wilson thinks so), but that on CNN.com he emphasizes one vantage point on the truth as he sees it.
Few citizens seem to be as happy as they expected to be with the president’s work or how he defines or talks about his cultural self.
The United States have yet to see someone, certainly not its president, who can lead and comfort them while managing their near obsession with that which is supposed to have ceased to matter a long time ago– color.